Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why is France different?

Credit: Jacques Brinon/AP
I don't know if you saw this story, but it got sent to me by a frequent commenter. Apparently, a group of angry Air France employees stormed the headquarters, after they found out that, according to the New York Times, "900 flight attendants, 1,700 ground crew members and 300 pilots could be laid off." They tore the clothes off 2 executives' backs.

I don't know anything about this story or the structure of French airlines or French labor policy, but this story really shocks me, in the rather brutal violence of it (they don't have assault/battery laws?), that it was allowed to happen (they don't have security guards in France?) and, finally, that I cannot think of a case where similar things happened to American executives during the Great Recession.

As I said on Twitter the other day, I think acts of social shunning of CEOs and the like (refusing to shake hands, other signs of disrespect and unfriendliness) are certainly fair game, especially during rather brutal layoffs here. But it hasn't seemed to happen - why not? Do our HR departments just do a better job of keeping us peons away? Why is France different? 

26 comments:

  1. CEO of Lehman (Fold) got punched in the face while on the company treadmill.

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  2. May be that the French use their fists/hands and not resort to guns we see here in the USA. Hands and fists better any day. Indeed it is intriguing!

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    1. As I said on Twitter, it's not like we have a shortage of deadly items in the US to take after executives with, so why the difference?

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    2. I think there's a project to dissociate CEOs from their decisions and a tendency to imagine they know what they're doing here that doesn't happen in other countries.

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    3. Yeah, I would totally get on board with fisticuffs if it ameliorated the nutcase bringing a gun in to "even the score". Or just gave us the feeling that something was happening to these dudes--iirc Martha Stewart did more time than anyone who caused the 2008 crash.

      Those lame "pie in the face" gags aren't even close, imho. Too artsy-fartsy.

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  3. My business model for my new company: crowd-fund professional ISIS flogger(s) for public whipping of CEO's, lazy/dishonest faculty members, etc, and take a 25% cut. This article strongly suggests my buusiness will work. Its a win-win-win.

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    1. NMH, this is not the first time that you have advocated flogging, whipping etc., usually by ISIS on this blog. Are you into S & M, or something?

      Actually, in the US, we used to have a tradition of public shaming of authority figures. It was called "tarring and feathering" and was applied by nascent revolutionaries to the British colonial authorities.

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    2. Well, lets just say I think Singapore had it right with there use of Rattan Canes. They certainly caught my imagination.

      Flogging: don't knock it until you tried it. :)

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    3. @Generic Chemist - I can think of not a small number of politicians and administrators that could use a good Tar and Feathering

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  4. Historically, French people (Parisians even more) are prone to rebellion as judged by the number of major revolutions in the lasts 250 years: 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, (Paris commune)…and the violence level has been way much higher in the past (about 10,000 dead following the repression of the commune). So in a way, this is not surprising. There is a long tradition of violent labor conflicts (no later than this year, Taxis vs. Uber, Farmers blocking the whole country and as a result getting billions in subsidies).

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    1. Yeah, I mean, it's not like they ever stormed the palace, dragged their King out into the street, and beheaded him.

      My favorite is still 1871, when they were having (another) revolution right as the Prussians arrived, and there was nobody in charge who could surrender.

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    2. My favorite will be in the future when Chartes Mosque will be stormed and returned to the christians. Don't think that will happen to the Hagia Sofia, though.

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  5. I would add that there were securities guards but they simply got overwhelmed. We do have assault laws in France; the violent employees were identified on videos and will likely be prosecuted.

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    1. Thanks for adding your knowledge, Anon.

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  6. Glad you all find this worthy of discussion :-)

    Come to think of it, back when I did my MSc at Michigan State, my GF was a French graduate student. She actually had a few ancestors who ended up on the guillotine. My MSU research director (who has since then passed away) was a very unsympathetic person who was ridiculed by anonymous cartoons which were hung up on a bulletin board (something along the lines of a group of professors sitting in chairs in a circle, with the title "Cowards Anonymous". His reaction was to have a temper tantrum and proclaim that he would have the instigator of the cartoon thrown out of the department. To this day, I still don't know the cartoon's author's name.

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    1. Okay, I would advocate ridicule before violence and mild violence before extreme violence.

      I mean, I'm probably more sympathetic to a generic CEO position and even I can't believe some of these guys don't get slapped in the face more often.

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  7. Never a fan of violence, but I do think that stories like this illustrate how CEOs and corporations in France rightly have more to fear from the rank and file (and yes, I understand that this has its disadvantages). This is how it should be. To paraphrase "V": "Governments and corporations should be afraid of people, people shouldn't be afraid of governments and corporations".

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    1. The disadvantage for Air France is that this long-time conflictual situation has been dragging the company down and likely made the situation worse. A recently published comparison with Lufthansa and British Airways is quite revealing.

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  8. Perhaps it is a matter of access to the CEO. Workplace violence is quite real, but it seems (from what i can tell anyway) to make victims of colleagues and lower level supervisors more than anyone else.

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  9. I don't know why. Pharma management seems to treat employee firings as an inexhaustable source of stock boosts without having any idea how to increase productivity (nominally their jobs). In the extreme case (with the Chicago Tribune), the company was bought using its employees' retirement funds (unwillingly) to finance the acquisition, thus ensuring that when they went bankrupt, the people who bought it got out fine, while the employees lost their jobs and their retirements. (I am till surprised that some of the Chicago "business community" were not enlisted to exact their own penalties in that case.) In these cases, management doesn't seem to have taken care of either its employees or its shareholders. If that's the case, then it would seem that whatever power shareholders, employees, and the government have is insufficient to compel CEOs to take the interests of their companies seriously. In addition, the lack of humanity in the process is designed to allow management to lie to themselves about the nature of what they're doing (which implies that they know that it's wrong and cannot allow themselves to care). Given all of these things, it's surprising that more violence isn't meted out to management. Considering their insistence that everyone but them put "more skin in the game", a requirement that they put their skins in the game might be just.

    I guess that a combination of security arrangements (people don't generally see upper management, so access is limited and controlled; they are likely to live in places with better security at home and in transit) and US people's belief that this mode of capitalism offers them the best and fairest chance to get what they want (or at least their unwillingness to discard that belief) makes violence less likely here than in France (where they are less likely to believe that). We seem to believe little in class as a determinant of our lives, and have fewer ties in class, and so anger that can be seen as "class warfare" is unlikely to be exercised.

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  10. Because Americans are obedient to their corporate masters. This would never happen in America, because we are too passive to corruption and abuse.

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  11. This is an isolated incident, you know. It's not like this happens in France with the regularity of, say, mass shootings in the US.

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  12. Hey, Z:
    Mass shootings vs. ridicule? The two can't be compared. Mass shootings are always committed by fringe elements of society, e.g. those having either serious mental health issues, extremist politics or a combination of the two. Public ridicule and rebuke -at least those incidents which gets into our corporate-monopoly media- is exercised by groups of disenfranchised individuals.

    For example, you could hardly expect hundreds of Air France (or Hewlett Packard) employees to arm themselves with Kalashnikovs and storm the HQ. A single disgruntled employee who punches his boss will also be less likely to make it into the aforementioned US media.

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  13. While the thought of emulating Mike Hammer on crooked financiers or CEOs gives visceral pleasure, actually doing it will lead to a society like that of ancient Rome. It's better to get laws changed to prevent practices that are not beneficial to the common good.

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  14. It's not an isolated incident. IDK whether you have this stereotype in the US, but in at least some of Western Europe, the idea that the French (especially Parisians) are always rioting abounds. It is a stereotype, but it has some truth.

    I don't think European public protest/rioting is done for the same reasons as American mass shootings.

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  15. It's the corporate culture as shown in this Air France ad for business-class seating.
    http://corporate.airfrance.com/uploads/tx_templavoila/France_is_in_the_air-New_business_class_seat_01.jpg

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